Award-winning filmmaker calls for more “Arab-centric” stories
Emirati filmmaker Amal Al-Agroobi took part in Dubai Studio City’s latest Instagram Live interactive Reel Talks session, a digital weekly series featuring leading regional industry figures, run in collaboration with in5 Media and ON.DXB, in partnership with the National Media Council.
The self-taught filmmaker, producer and scriptwriter – who switched her career in biomedical science for the silver screen in 2012 – shared her journey from starting out in cinema to rubbing shoulders with Hollywood celebrities such as Matt Damon at the Oscars.
Passion for film encouraged Al-Agroobi to follow her heart, risk everything, and give up her job in the medical sector to work on her directorial debut: a short documentary titled ‘Half Emirati’ reflecting her experiences of identity. It was screened at Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) in 2012. Her award-winning feature documentary ‘The Brain That Sings’ came a year later. It follows the lives of two boys living with autism in the UAE. It picked up the Emirates NBD People’s Choice Award in December 2013 at the DIFF.
During Reel Talks, Al-Agroobi advised aspiring filmmakers and content creators to attend as many film festivals as possible, crediting industry forums as a catalyst of her success that enabled her to mix with key people in Hollywood and attend glamorous ceremonies like the Oscars and the Grammy Awards.
Networking is a huge part of a filmmaker’s career – especially in the beginning when you are trying to establish yourself and secure funding for projects. Thus, attending as many as possible, such as ON.DXB in Dubai, Cannes in France and the Berlinale in Germany, is important to meet people and build relationships with industry heavyweights.
“If you want something in life you need to show up, you need to persevere and push on,” she said. “It’s not easy and there is a lot of networking, reading and attending film festivals, but all of this is important to develop your skillset. The magical thing about film is that it’s my form of expression – I use a visual medium to get my perspective across.”
One of these viewpoints is telling contemporary Arab-centric stories. Al-Agroobi said there can be a tendency to make Arab films that conform to the western perspective, something she is trying to change. Part of the growth of the UAE’s cinema industry is its ability to tell compelling stories from the region. The state-of-the-art production facilities at Dubai Studio City, such as the largest sound stages in the world, for example, provide opportunities for local filmmakers to create compelling stories of the highest quality. This infrastructure is the reason Hollywood productions such as Star Trek Beyond were shot in Dubai.
She is currently working on a historical documentary about the UAE, using her own filming equipment, archival footage and interviews shot with senior figures present at the time of the UAE’s unification. Al-Agroobi had been due to fly to Los Angeles to secure funding for a horror film she is also working on before the coronavirus pandemic grounded international flights. She has currently been documenting her time in quarantine on Instagram, advising the community to stay safe, stay positive and maintain their emotional wellbeing.
With a distinctive cinema career encompassing directing, scriptwriting, producing, Al-Agroobi wants to be considered as an auteur – a film director with an instantly recognisable movie style, such as Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese or Quintin Tarantino. The self-taught director and writer is well on her way to achieving this. She has raised the profile of UAE film by telling powerful, character-driven Arab-centric stories. Local talent can look to her career path as a model to follow if they heed her advice, attend networking sessions, start producing Arab-centric content, and create and innovate.
Those interested in Amal Al-Agroobi work, can check out her youtube channel https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCnob47YRizHYXy9lV0qYmpA or follow her on her Instagram account @amalalagroobi